“Growing the SA craft beer industry”. That’s the tagline of this year’s Craft Brewers Powwow, held in Cape Town from May 11-13. And it sums up exactly why brewers and beer enthusiasts should be saving their cash to attend the three-day conference. The only way the local beer industry can grow is through education – both of brewers and consumers.
The weekend kicks off with the kind of Friday any homebrewer or beer nerd would fake illness at work for (or if you’re a bit more ethical, book a day of leave for). Throughout the day, qualified brewmaster Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela will be running a brew – a perfect way to get a bit of insight into the process. Then after lunch Aruna Singh of FlavorActiv offers a sensory training session. Whether you’re a microbrewer, a homebrewer or a plain old drinker, knowing your acetaldehyde from your 4-vinyl guaiacol is crucial. If you brew, you need to be able to work out what went wrong (assuming something will go wrong at some point). If you’re a drinker, knowing when to return a beer is a key part of growing beer culture and elevating the overall quality of beer in SA.
Want to take some sensory training but can’t make it to the Powwow? Get in touch – I can come to your brewery, bar or restaurant and conduct training with the FlavorActiv kits.
The highlight of Friday though, has to be the homebrewers braai. There’s always plenty of tasty meat, salad and bread to tuck into – and you do need to fill your tummy, for once judging is out of the way, the remaining homebrew is set out for all to taste. Homebrewers tend not to mess about when it comes to things like ABV, so eat plenty and sip wisely. The homebrewers awards will be announced that evening and among the epic prizes is an envy-inducing beery trip around Germany. If you want to you can simply attend the homebrewers’ braai for R250 (plus VAT). But I’d recommend you stick around for the rest of the weekend…
On Saturday the conference proper begins, kicking off with a talk on the local industry from Alan Melville of RedRock in Jo’burg. Then the keynote speaker takes the stage for the first of three unnamed talks. John Mallett is director of operations at Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. If you’re not familiar with Bell’s, here are a couple of things you should know: their Two Hearted Ale (IPA) was voted best beer in the US by the American Homebrewers Association in 2017, toppling Russian River’s Pliny the Elder after eight years (Two Hearted Ale placed second from 2010 to 2016). Their Hopslam Double IPA is released once a year and creates more mayhem that a Justin Bieber concert in a primary school. And the brewery has the kind of backstory that foreshadows what’s happening in our beer scene at the moment – starting life as a homebrew store in the early 80s, the founder, Larry Bell sold his first batch after brewing it in a 50-litre soup pot. John has spent 16 of his 30 years in the brewing industry with Bell’s and I can imagine he’s got some seriously good stories to share.
Throughout the day there will be talks from local and international speakers, covering everything from hops and more hops to a session I’m particularly looking forward to, entitled “Pub games to increase turnover”. At Saturday’s gala dinner, the winners of the craft brewer awards will be announced, with two talented brewers joining the homebrew winner in Germany.
The talks continue on Sunday, rounding off with a final session from John (do you think there’s any hope at all that he’s bringing some Two Hearted Ale to share?) before everyone piles onto the buses for a field trip to Devil’s Peak’s new brewery in Epping.
As every year, it promises to be a weekend that offers education, entertainment, networking and great beer in equal measures. Early bird tickets have now ended, but the weekend is still very well priced at R1900 plus VAT. Just over R2000 for three days of beery fun, lots of learning, plenty of tasters and a couple of great dinners. And if you really can’t scrape together the cash this year, start saving up for 2019 – if you have one beer less each week*, in a year the Powwow is paid for and you don’t have to sit at home fighting the fomo and weeping into your pint. (* calculated at R45 per pint for 52 weeks.)
The Craft Brewers Powwow takes place from May 11th-13th at Hotel Verde next to Cape Town International Airport. Packages are available for those wanting to stay over at the hotel. Tickets are available from the Craft Brewers Powwow website.